Banks now targeting ‘mass affluent' - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Banks now targeting ‘mass affluent'

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For The State Journal

Archeologists tell us they've uncovered evidence that money lending was a part of daily life in civilizations as ancient as Assyria and Babylonia. But banking as we know it today can be traced to Renaissance Italy, where banks were formed that solely managed the interests of the richest families of the day. 

In our own country, banks have always catered to the particular wants, needs and sometimes the whims of individuals and families whose assets are counted in the millions.

Today, however, many banks are lowering their sites and beginning to aggressively target people with assets in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, not just millions. Banks such as JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America and others are courting what the banking industry now calls the "mass affluent."

The banks are offering a range of perks to the well-heeled customers they're going after and linking traditional banking services with sophisticated investment advice.

We hear a great deal these days about the "Richest 1 Percent" of Americans. These banks are going after a bigger target — potential customers who make up what's estimated as the nation's "Richest 10 Percent." 

JPMorgan Chase, which traditionally had not focused on this niche of the banking market, is making an especially aggressive push and gaining market share, according to industry experts. 

Chase calls its new service "Chase Private Client" and is rapidly adding it to many of its locations across the country.

"We understand that affluent customers have different needs from a products and services perspective," said Chase Market Director Mark Lucas, in a recent interview at the Chase branch on 5th Avenue in downtown Huntington.

"The wealth management industry is changing and our research has shown that 70 percent of our affluent customers are seeking a primary provider to manage their entire financial relationship," Lucas said. "Recognizing this, we've introduced an offering designed exclusively with the needs and wants of affluent customers in mind. 

"We knew there was an opportunity to offer those customers the best of Chase banking and J.P. Morgan investment advice in a unique but familiar setting."

Chase Private Client was launched as a pilot program in 2007, beginning in the New York and Chicago regions. Lucas said Chase Private Client was added to 1,200 new locations nationwide last year. 

"That total figure included 10 locations here in West Virginia," he said. "Prior to last year, the service wasn't available to our West Virginia customers. 

"Now we offer it in Huntington, Charleston and a number of smaller communities."

Chase Private Client, Lucas explained, "provides the convenience and banking expertise of Chase with the thought leadership and investment products of J.P. Morgan." 

"Private Clients enjoy a high level of personal service and attention, delivered through a dedicated team — the Private Client Banker and the J.P. Morgan Private Client Advisor," he said. 

The Private Client Banker, Lucas said, provides clients with customized banking solutions and service, including preferred rates, waived fees and specialized lending and mortgage products. At the same time, the J.P. Morgan Private Client Advisor provides clients with investment advice tailored to meet their specific needs. 

"What we're doing is reaching out to a historically underserved segment of the market," he said. "We're offering people the level of services and products they deserved all along. 

"And, if you qualify, it doesn't cost you anything more." 

Lucas, an Ohio native and Marshall University business graduate who now lives in Beckley, said a recently completed remodeling of the Chase banking center in downtown Huntington "created new offices for two Private Client Bankers and one J.P. Morgan Private Client Advisor." 

To celebrate the remodeling, Chase presented a donation of $20,000 to the Huntington Area Development Council (HADCO). 

Chase may extend its Private Client service to other West Virginia locations in the future, Lucas said, "but no additional expansion is planned at the moment. Opening 10 locations in one year was a big step and we need to catch our breath a bit after that."